It’s that time of year again. The days begin to get shorter, the temperature begins to drop, and calendars begin to fill up with due dates. The school season has once again begun. It’s always an adjustment to go back to school, so to help alleviate this transition I have compiled a top-10 list of some of what I consider to be the best school-related movies, in order to get you in the back-to-school state of mind. My criteria for the list is that each movie has to revolve around school or the education system, follow the life of a character whose major trait is that they’re a student/teacher, and/or deal with themes heavily relevant to school experiences. For the sake of this list and to not include movies that are too similar to one another, I will be choosing based on several different factors so as to not have a list comprised merely on general archetype. With that being said, let’s start counting down with the film that takes the #10 spot on this list:
- “10 Things I Hate About You” (1999)
Starting us off at #10 is the movie with that very same number in its title, “10 Things I Hate About You.” This film is arguably the most 90s film on the planet, right next to “Clueless.” However, its school-themed take on the romantic-comedy genre just makes it so charming and helps it stand out in a decade that was filled with a plethora of school-related movies. “10 Things I Hate About You” tells the story of four very different, yet still interconnected characters. Kat and Bianca are sisters; Kat is not interested in dating and is quite coarse with her peers, while her younger sister, Bianca, is eager to get a boyfriend. However, their dad won’t let Bianca date anyone until Kat also has a boyfriend. With a few different boys interested in Bianca, one of them (Cameron) decides to bribe the school’s bad-boy (Patrick) into trying to date Kat so that he can in turn date Bianca. Accepting the bribe, Patrick tries to spark a relationship with the uninterested and unamused Kat, which becomes a problem when he actually starts to like her; all the while shy boy Cameron tries to win over the heart of Bianca, who is head-over-heels for the popular jock (Joey). With a plot that sounds like gossip straight out of a high school student’s mouth, this movie is funny, heart-warming, and on all accounts just good-hearted fun. Julia Stiles and Joseph-Gordon Levitt are great in their roles, especially Stiles who delivers a fantastic monologue toward the end of the film. However, the movie’s standout performance comes from a young Heath Ledger who plays Patrick. From his nonchalant demeanor to his rendition of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons’ “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” he steals the show and solidifies this movie as a 90s classic and a fundamental school-related movie.
- “21 Jump Street” (2012)
Famous for launching Johnny Depp’s career, 21 Jump Street was a popular TV show that lasted 5 seasons in the late 1980s. Over 20 years after the series ended, a movie inspired by the show began filming and would restart a genre that had seemingly gone dormant in years prior. “21 Jump Street” stars Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill as police officers who go undercover as students in a high school where they try to infiltrate a drug ring. This movie is quite simply hilarious and helped revive the R-rated teenage comedy. It was genuinely funny, but where it also succeeded was in addressing the changing scene of high school over the years and the idea of growing up and fitting in. Tatum and Hill have fantastic chemistry in this movie and are directly responsible for landing basically every joke in this film. It’s sequel “22 Jump Street” may be weaker than its predecessor, but it is also funny and although it may not have had as much charm as the first one, it still provides laughs and it’s new setting on a college campus (Tulane’s campus to be exact) make it worth the watch.
- “Mean Girls” (2004)
Released in 2004, “Mean Girls” defined mid-2000s teenage filmography. From lines such as “On Wednesday’s we wear pink,” to “She doesn’t even go here!” this movie is on all accounts a pop-culture masterpiece. “Mean Girls” set up Lindsay Lohan, who plays the protagonist Cady Heron, to be the next it-girl in Hollywood, as her performance in this was relatable and at times rather heartfelt. Sadly, her career took a turn for the worse after the movie, but this film still exists as her greatest achievement to date. Written by Tina Fey and comprised of a handful of memorable performances, this movie is a definite crowd-pleaser. “Mean Girls” follows Cady, a girl who has spent her entire life in Africa, and her family’s move to America to attend a suburban high school for the first time in her life. As the story develops, the separate and distinct worlds of Cady’s past in Africa and the public school in America that she now attends begin to chaotically blend as all hell seemingly starts to breaks loose. “Mean Girls” comments on the importance that students place on popularity in high school and makes some serious points about the anxieties of schooling and fitting in, while always remaining a hilarious commentary on what it means to be a student in America.
- “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” (2012)
If there is any movie that makes you want to have a group of quirky indie friends to sing David Bowie songs to, it is this one. “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” is an underrated gem from the early 2010s that follows an awkward boy, Charlie, who is starting high school and just doesn’t fit in. When he finally finds a ragtag group of friends, they help him step out of his comfort zone, all while he battles with anxiety and some troubles from his past. Navigating some pretty deep topics, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” is definitely a drama, but still carries a fun and free-spirited nature throughout the movie’s entirety that help to make it all the more enjoyable. With standout performances from Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, and Ezra Miller, this movie is a must-watch. From memorable scenes like Charlie’s emotional discussion with his teacher (played by Paul Rudd) to his friends’ performance of “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” to a school dance featuring the song “Come on Eileen,” this movie creates an atmosphere of the youth anxiousness of growing up that is affected by schooling, and it also depicts the yearning for something greater in ourselves that so many of us can relate to.
- “School of Rock” (2003)
Growing up I must have watched this movie at least 30 times in full. In what I believe to be Jack Black’s best role to date, “School of Rock” is just an all-around fantastic feel-good flick. With a killer soundtrack, an extremely original premise, and a perfect performance from Black, this movie hits on all marks. “School of Rock” follows Dewey Finn, a failing musician who after getting kicked out of his own rock band, pretends to be a substitute teacher to make some extra money. However, when he stumbles across his class’s band practice, he decides to ditch the normal studies and instead make the class into his very own rock band. With a fairly crazy concept, this movie stays grounded by its charm and a magnetic performance from Jack Black. As these rule-following and timid private school students spend more and more time with Dewey, they begin learning how to accept themselves and stand up for what they believe in. Although not actually a teacher, Dewey does end up teaching some important life lessons, as we see so many of the kids transform into more confident versions of themselves by the end of the movie. As the kids learn from Dewey, Dewey himself also learns something about what it means to be a part of something bigger, in this case, being a part of the class and also being a part of the band.
- “National Lampoon’s Animal House” (1978)
Comedies tend to have a fairly short expiration date; what I mean by this is that after a few years comedies tend to lose their steam and fade into obscurity, as the jokes become outdated and irrelevant. However, over 40 years after its release, “Animal House” is still one of the most widely acclaimed comedies ever made, and its movie poster still hangs in the dorm rooms of every freshman boy to ever attend college. This film is a classic in all senses. “Animal House” revolves around the fraternity Delta Tau Chi at the fictitious Faber College, and the entire movie is basically just a series of outlandish escapades carried out by the brothers of this rambunctious fraternity as they try their best to not get kicked out of school. John Belushi steals the show throughout the film, and the whole rest of the cast is just flawless in their roles. “Animal House” was the original college movie and is widely regarded as one of the best comedies of all time (for very good reason). This film is so important because it helped launch a wave of movies that focused on students and schools, as seen by the multitude of similar films that followed after its release.
- “Eighth Grade” (2018)
While “Eighth Grade” was only released only last year, I would already consider it to be a modern-day classic. Never before have I seen such a true portrayal of what school is actually like. Movies about school and students tend to have unrealistic scenarios, actors who are 10 years older than the characters they’re playing, and are often just over-the-top. “Eighth Grade,” however, depicts middle school for what it actually is: a truly awkward time in all of our lives. The film follows Kayla, a girl in the eighth grade, as she prepares for high school. She is nervous, unsure of herself, and quite honestly scared of what the future holds. This film may not be the most exciting on the surface, but the authentic performances, the witty dialogue, and the fantastic direction from first-time director Bo Burnham make this movie phenomenal. It truly shows the profound effects a time that seems so trivial can really have on a child. It comments on bullying, the rise of social media and other modern technologies, and also the effects of peer pressure. This movie made me laugh, physically cringe, and also reflect upon my own time in middle school; it takes the viewer on a rollercoaster of emotions and does so impeccably.
- “Superbad” (2007)
A movie about three underage boys trying to buy alcohol for a party would not appear on the surface to have much substance, but in the case of “Superbad,” this could not be any further from the truth. And while this movie may outwardly appear to simply be a raunchy teenage comedy, if you look below the water-line, this film is quite heartfelt and exposes the bittersweet transitional stage of graduating high school and entering college. Seth and Evan (played by Jonah Hill and Michael Cera respectively), are best friends that are attending different colleges in the fall. With the hopes of getting girlfriends for the summer before they go their separate ways, they agree to buy alcohol for an end of the year party for both of the girls they are interested in. What should be an easy task ends up taking them on a wild adventure that involves a robbery, a cop car exploding, and a massive brawl. Hill and Cera have fantastic chemistry, and their refusal to move on from high school and one another is what makes this movie so great. Rounded out by a great supporting cast comprised of Bill Hader, Seth Rogen, Emma Stone, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse as the iconic McLovin, this movie is a treat. It provides non-stop laughs while also focusing on the deeper anxieties that come with growing up and separating from friends you’ve had since childhood.
- “Dead Poet’s Society” (1989)
In what I consider to be Robin William’s second greatest performance, behind only his Oscar-winning role in “Good Will Hunting,” “Dead Poet’s Society” is about passion, life, and the pursuit of education. It follows Williams as a new professor, John Keaton, at a highly respected all-boys boarding school. His unorthodox teaching methods agitate many of the older staff who adhere to more traditional methods, but Keaton’s style attracts the attention of a few boys who become inspired by him and want to change their lives now that their eyes have been opened. Robin Williams was perfectly cast as Keaton, who vehemently opposes the rigid system which tries to breed the boys of this private school into men suitable for Ivy League colleges; he instead wants them to make their own choices and follow their dreams, whether it be art, poetry, or law if that’s what they so desire. This movie is all parts inspiring, comedic, and also heartbreaking. “Dead Poet’s Society” really does make you reflect on life and the education system as a whole. On a final note regarding this movie, I remind you all of the Latin phrase “carpe diem,” which translates to “seize the day.”
- “The Breakfast Club” (1985)
The 1980s is arguably the greatest decade in school-related movies, which is largely a result of director/screenwriter John Hughes. Realistically, half of this list could’ve been comprised of some of his other classics like “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “Pretty in Pink,” “Some Kind of Wonderful” and “Sixteen Candles.” However, I decided to only feature his crowning achievement and what ranks as #1 on my list: “The Breakfast Club.” This film is entirely about school and the problems and pressures that youth face. In this movie, Hughes gave a voice to teenagers all over the country and was able to visualize what their lives are really like. “The Breakfast Club” follows five students who have to serve detention for one full day and write a self-reflexive paper about who they think they are. Each student comes from a different clique, including a popular girl, a jock, a nerd, an outcast, and a rebel. Although the students don’t talk at first, as the hours pass, a bond forms between them which may or may not last for the rest of their lives… that is up for them to decide. This film encapsulates the school-movie genre and creates an atmosphere throughout that perfectly expresses the essence of being a teenager and going to school. The whole plot is executed so well and the ending, in particular, is up there with some of the greatest in movie history. This film grapples with the anxieties of being a student and growing up, and it does so in both a dramatic and light-hearted manner. From memorable lines, to a crazy 80s dance sequence, to the iconic fist-pump at the end, this movie is both entertaining and an important must-watch for all students. “The Breakfast Club” perfectly hits all the marks of what makes a great school-related movie, and for that reason takes the spot for #1.
I think it is also important to list some of my honorable mentions that didn’t make the top-10. Whether these films were too similar to some of the other movies on this list or whether they may not have been school-related enough to be featured, they get the recognition they deserve here:
“17 Again” (2009)
“The 400 Blows” (1959)
“American Pie” (1999)
“American Graffiti” (1973)
“Back to the Future” (1985)
“Back to School” (1986)
“Billy Madison” (1995)
“Dazed and Confused” (1993)
“Easy A” (2010)
“The Edge of Seventeen” (2016)
“The Emperor’s Club” (2002)
“Fast Times at Ridgemont High” (1982)
“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” (1986)
“The Graduate” (1967)
“The Harry Potter Series” (2001-2011)
“High School Musical” (2006)
“Lady Bird” (2017)
“The Last Picture Show” (1971)
“Legally Blonde” (2001)
“Love, Simon” (2018)
“Napoleon Dynamite” (2004)
“Never Been Kissed” (1999)
“Pitch Perfect” (2012)
“Pretty in Pink” (1986)
“Rebel Without a Cause” (1955)
“Risky Business” (1983)
“Sixteen Candles” (1984)
“Sky High” (2005)
“Some Kind of Wonderful” (1987)
“The Spectacular Now” (2013)
“Spider-Man: Homecoming” (2017)
I hope you enjoyed my list, and if you have any suggestions for future lists or think that I may not have given enough respect to a movie that either made the list or didn’t, I’d love to hear! Thanks for reading and I wish everyone straights A’s this semester… except for Gretchen Wieners. None for her.
Cover Photo: IMDB